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The League Cup, now sponsored by Capital One, has become the perfect competition for some sides to choose to field younger players. Man United in particular tend to take advantage of easier draws but this year they have Newcastle United at home in the third round. Instead of a full-on preview, we’ve put together an introduction to some of the younger players who might feature.
The last time these two sides met in the League Cup was October 1994. Newcastle were 2-0 victors at St James’ Park but even back then, Man United chose to field a youthful side that contained Gillespie, Beckham, G Neville, Scholes, Butt and Davies. Things are a little different today with many teams having bigger, deeper squads but the commitment to playing youth still remains a core principle at United. Aside from players who need minutes (Anderson, Welbeck, Cleverley) and those recovering from injuries (Rooney, Fletcher), tomorrow will still hopefully see some youngsters involved.
Sam Johnstone – capped at just about every England youth group he’s been eligible for, Sam’s been tipped by Fergie for a bright future. He’s tall but with excellent reflexes and gets down low to shots very quickly and easily. At only 18 he went on loan to Scunthorpe in League 1 last year and impressed; this season he’s third choice at United and will be hoping to make his competitive debut. If there was one area of weakness, it would be his kicking but that, like most parts of his game has improved immeasurably over the last year.
Marnick Vermijl – he signed as an 18 year old and has been an ever present in the Reserves since. Like many modern fullbacks he loves to get forward and even scores the odd goal. Arguably he’s been the Reserves’ most consistent performer over the last 18 months, rarely putting a foot wrong. He brought his consistent level of performance on the first team tour over the summer and despite being versatile, must fancy his chances of playing at right back. At 20 you might expect him to be out on loan but the coaching staff are aware the physically he’s still a bit small.
Michael Keane – last season’s Reserve Player of the Year and outstanding performer. Michael’s shift from right back to centre back had been perfectly timed to coincide with one almighty growth spurt. He’s gone from a gangly boy to a tall, lean young man – he’s almost already the tallest outfield player in the first team squad. His excellent reading of the game and new-found aerial threat are nicely mixed with footballing composure that he learnt from his spell as a right back. A very complete young footballer who must have a strong chance of starting.
Scott Wootton – in all probability, this will be Scott’s last year at United. He’s 21 and is ready for competitive action in the football league after numerous loan spells. Physically he’s the most developed of the young defenders and would be best-placed to come up against a strong striker. However he’s a tad slow, particularly on the turn and although much improved, there are better ball-playing centre backs. He did well enough on the first team tour though and has earned the chance to make his debut.
Tom Thorpe – of the defenders, Tom’s the most elegant. He has a style of playing that’s very easy on the eye both on and off the ball. He’s positioning is superb and therefore is often making interceptions rather than tackles. His quality on the ball has seen him play in front of the back four before but he’s best bringing the ball out of defence. He had a great partnership with Michael Keane for England’s U19s over the summer but like many young players, he’s still a tad on the short side.
Tyler Blackett – one of the most exciting young players at the club, Tyler’s a rangy left back who seems to play as if he has no idea of just how talented he is. He does go wandering and switch off at times but when he’s focused he’s excellent. Clever on the ball, quick, strong and at still only 18, some have already earmarked him as a future left back for the club. It seems more likely that Buttner will play instead of him but Tyler’s worth keeping an eye on.
Larnell Cole – quiet, shy and clever. Larnell’s short and stocky but delicate on the ball. He likes playing in tight spaces and enjoys having possession when under pressure. He’s best used centrally but has often been used wide on the right because he’s quick and the club have been heavily stocked in the middle. He made his first team debut at Leeds last year and has had a series of muscular injuries recently but could be included if he’s currently fit.
Jesse Lingard – he’s the player many have been talking about because of his summer performances. Jesse’s become a key player for the U21s wherever he’s been used – centrally, wide, or off a striker. He’s quick with good feet and has a wonderful eye for a pass. His goalscoring record coupled with his tidy style has seen him and Larnell likened to Xavi and Iniesta (clearly not in a completely serious way). Like Larnell, he’s small and looks like he should be easily pushed over but lots of dedicated gym work have helped him build a good core strength and balance.
Ryan Tunnicliffe – the latest of the kids to be likened to Roy Keane! Ryan’s an all-action, tough-tackling, yellow card-loving central midfielder. He’s a rarity in the modern youth game as he’s a genuine box-to-box player. His loan spell at Peterborough last year had mixed success but since returning he’s gotten leaner and has started this season very well – adding some much needed composure in the final third of the pitch, assisting four of the seven goals scored by the U21s so far.
Robbie Brady – a direct, stocky winger who’s already been tipped for big things back in Ireland – even more so since he scored on his debut for the full international team. He did alright on loan at Hull last year and has to be in with a good chance of starting on the left. Before Buttner joined he had been pinpointed as an option for a back up at left back. I suspect he either needs to go on loan again or for his own sake, move on to a club in the football league so he can get the regular minutes he needs.
Davide Petrucci – much-talked about when he joined as a 16 year old, Davide lost nearly two years to serious injuries but has come back very strongly and captained the Reserves last season. A technically gifted footballer who can play behind a striker or in front of the defence, he’s the playmaker at U21 level and tends to breeze through games with ease. He almost certainly now needs a loan but a debut, even off the bench, against Newcastle would cap off an excellent 12 months for him.
Joshua King – almost the forgotten man, Joshua made his debut in this competition three years ago and has since had injuries and some poorly arranged loans. The past month though he’s been impressive – he made his international debut for Norway, looked lean and strong, and was singled out for praise from Warren Joyce (U21 coach at United). Joshua himself has admitted he may need to leave the club to progress his own career but a second United appearance should be in the offing tomorrow.
Angelo Henriquez – the exciting striker joined from La U in Chile this summer. He’s not featured in any U21 games (at least not those we know about) but there has been some suggestion that he may feature in this one. With Welbeck and Hernandez both needing stars though, it may be from the bench that he appears.
Hard to know or predict which, if any, of the above will feature given that Fergie will want to ensure he can use the game to give some much needed competitive minutes to certain players. Add to the above the likes of Powell, Bebe, Buttner and Macheda, and it becomes even harder to fit many of them in. The longshot would be the inclusion of some of the even younger players. Fergie loves to reward those who are performing well and you’d be hard pushed to find a more in-form player at the club than Mats Daehli.
Newcastle will no doubt shuffle their pack too but this isn’t an exhibition game and both sides will most certainly want to progress through to the next round. A Man United win with a few debuts and no injuries would be just perfect.